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Applying to higher education: a guide for parents

At St Mary’s we understand that the process of applying to higher education can be a daunting one for students and parents alike. 

With an increase in the number of students applying to study at university there are large numbers of parents and carers who are themselves going through the process for the first time as well.

Balancing wanting the best for your young person with knowing exactly how involved to get in the decision process is sometimes difficult for parents. Some may feel very unfamiliar with the whole process, while others may be tempted to try and take over proceedings to make sure everything is organised.

How does my young person apply to study at St Mary's?

Your dependent will need to apply and monitor their application through the UCAS website

UCAS Apply opens in May every year, but completed applications can only be submitted from September onwards.

Your applicant is able to select up to five courses on their application. Their five choices can be to different universities, but they are also able to apply for more than one course at the same institution.

The deadline to submit the UCAS application is 15th January. They will still be able to apply after this date through one of our late application methods.

What’s the difference between conditional and unconditional offer?

Conditional offer

This offer will lay out conditions that your applicant will need to meet in order to have their place confirmed. Conditional offers often depend on exam results, which for most people means waiting for their results day to see if they have met the entry requirements.

Unconditional offer

Your applicant has already met the entry requirements and the place is theirs should they wish to accept the offer. If they accept an unconditional offer, they cannot make an insurance choice or be entered into Clearing. 

What if my young person doesn’t get the right grades for their course?

Don’t panic, Clearing is open from early July until late September and offers a final route to applying for a university course.

Adjustment is the opposite of Clearing and allows your applicant to switch to a different university or degree programme if they get better results than they’re expecting. From this time, your young person has a maximum of five days to find an alternative course.

Please visit our application process webpages for more information and the UCAS website to learn about the exact dates of the process. 

What application deadlines should I be aware of?

It is certainly helpful to be in a position where you are aware of the facts, such as when deadlines are being set by schools or colleges, and to be able to offer support if an when it is required. We have put together a timeline of application deadlines which you may find helpful.

Moreover, knowing the key terms and qualifications associated with higher education will help you support your dependent and fully understand the steps involved in the process. 


A choice is a course you apply for on your application – many students make multiple choices to increase their chances of getting a place.


In a UCAS Undergraduate application, Clearing is another service you can use to look for alternative courses. If you didn’t get a place on a course – whether you didn’t receive offers, declined your offers, or didn’t get the grades you needed – Clearing allows you to apply for courses that still have vacancies.

Conditional offer

In your application, an offer of a place on a course subject to conditions. To be accepted on the course, you’ll need to meet the conditions – usually related to your exam results. This is a common type of offer for students applying directly from further education.


In your application, the outcome of a conditional offer you’ve accepted. If you meet the conditions, your place will be made unconditional (meaning you’ve got a place on the course) – if not, the offer will be declined.


There are many different courses across different levels, subjects, and locations – from foundation degrees to PhDs.


In your application, this is what you do if you’d like to carry an offer over to start it in the following academic year. 

Entry requirements

This is what the course provider recommends you need to do/have to get on the course – from qualifications and specific subjects or grades, to interviews, admissions tests, and medical requirements. You aren't guaranteed an offer if you meet or already have these.


In a UCAS Undergraduate application, Extra is a service you can use to apply for alternative places if you do not hold an offer from your first five choices.


Slang term for students in their first year of university.

Firm Choice

In your application, an offer you accept as your first choice.

Gap year

A year typically taken after completion of secondary-level qualifications before starting a higher education course. During this year, students often travel, volunteer, or complete work experience.

Personal Statement

A piece of text applicants write to show why they’re applying and why they’d be a great student for a course provider to accept.


In your application, a recommendation on an applicant’s application from a teacher, adviser, or professional.


The UCAS Tariff is the system for allocating points to the different qualifications you can use to get into undergraduate higher education. Not all qualifications will be included in the Tariff. It is for use in admissions only and is not transferable to the job market. 


The name of our online tracking system where you can see how your application is progressing. Here you can reply to offers and make amendments, like changing your email address etc. (For postgraduate courses, Apply is combined with Track.) 


The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service in the UK. This includes our main UCAS Undergraduate application service, as well as the other services we run, i.e., UCAS Conservatoires, UCAS Teacher Training, and UCAS Postgraduate. We also help students from 13 years old onwards with UCAS Progress.

Unconditional offer

In your application, an offer of a place on a course with no conditions – the place is yours if you want it. 


In your application, either you haven’t been made an offer or you haven’t met the conditions of a conditional offer. 


In your application, before the decision has been made to make you an offer or not, either you or the university or college can withdraw a choice.

A Level

The General Certificate of Education Advanced Level (GCE A level, or more commonly, the A level), is an academic qualification taken in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland by students completing further education (secondary or pre-university education).

AS Level

The common term for the Advanced Subsidiary or first part of a full A level qualification.

Bachelor’s degree

A three or four year course you can take in undergraduate higher education after you’ve finished further education – also known as a ‘first degree’ or ‘undergraduate degree’. Most courses are either a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science. 


A common abbreviation for a Bachelor of Arts degree. 


A common abbreviation for a Bachelor of Science degree.

First Class Honours:

Most UK course providers use a degree classification system. First class honours, or a ‘first’, is the highest-level degree classification awarded. 


Most first degrees in higher education can come with ‘honours’. It’s not a grade as such – it just means it’s possible to get your degree ‘with honours’, which would be an extra indication of quality. Check what you need to do to get honours – it might be getting a certain grade or submitting a good dissertation. 

Single honours

This degree is typically three years long and focuses in one specific subject. Students will learn about different topics within this degree, but ultimately their studies will focus on one subject.

Joint honours

In this case, students choose to focus on two subjects – it’s perfect for those students who are interested in two different courses.


The abbreviation for Master of Arts, a postgraduate-level qualification. 


The abbreviation for Master of Science, a postgraduate-level qualification.

Ordinary degree

Generally a degree passed without honours. Some universities offer ordinary degree courses in their own right. Ordinary degrees can also be awarded to those students who do complete an honours degree course, but without achieving the conditions required to gain ‘honours’.

Postgraduate research

A research-intensive higher education course for graduates who have already completed an undergraduate course. 

Postgraduate taught

A higher education course for graduates who have already completed an undergraduate course – often including a variety of coursework, lectures, and seminars, etc., as well as a supervised dissertation, project, or thesis. 

Sandwich course

The year of a course where you work in the profession you’re studying for.

Second class honours

Most UK universities and colleges use a degree classification system. The highest level is commonly called a ‘first’, with second class honours broken down into two further classifications – upper division (or 2:1), and lower division (2:2). A 2:1 – or upper second class honours – classification is often required for entry into many postgraduate courses in the UK. 

Third class honours

Most UK universities and colleges use a degree classification system. Third class honours is typically the lowest degree classification awarded by UK universities and colleges.